Wednesday, 20 December 2017 14:37

The Blue Skies Community Fiddle Orchestra

You’re in for a real treat on Sunday Jan 7, 2018

“The Blue Skies Community Fiddle Orchestra” directed by Cindy McCall is an all ages group of 40+ fiddlers, with guitar, percussion, piano & penny Whistle, viola, bass, cello, and flute accompaniment. They will perform some of their recently perfected delightful repertoire. This enthusiastic bunch hails from the rural areas close by and rehearses on Saturday and Wednesday at the Maberly Hall. Their fiddle music is sure to get your toes tapping and the fun they are having is contagious.

The Lanark Fiddlers Guild directed by Cindy McCall will perform a selection of Celtic and Christmas tunes. Their arrangements will make the old Wooden hall ring with splendor.

“The Unspoken Rests” a youth segment of the Blue Skies Orchestra will also perform a few Jigs and Reels that they have been polishing up for your enjoyment.

Please join us at the Maberly Hall from 2pm to 5pm for our annual “Little Christmas Concert”. Admission is $10 at the Door. Children under 12 are free. Refreshments available.

Published in Lanark County
Wednesday, 21 December 2016 13:37

Little Christmas concert

Prepare yourselves for a delightful afternoon of fiddles, friends, and Chnstmas cheer! Join the Blue Skies Community Fiddle Orchestra for their 17th annual "Little Christmas Concert' on Sunday January 8 at the Maberly Hall from 2-5pm.

The concert will feature the joint talents of the Prep Orchestra (who have only been playing together since October), the Intermediate Orchestra, the BSFO, and the always anticipated Lanark Fiddler`s Guild. The Unspoken Rests, a talented youth ensemble group representing the BSFO, will also play a lively set of tunes.

Admission is $10 and refreshments are available. Be sure to arrive early. It's always a full house! Bring your family and friends to enjoy the Christmas spirit through music.

Published in General Interest
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 23:07

Blue Skies Music Festival

The Drum is the thing as Sullivan makes his mark as Artistic Director

Scheduling a family-based Drum from Peterborough to open the Blue Skies Festival on Friday night, and the Big Smoke Drum along with Chilean-based hip hop artist Akawui to close the festival on Sunday night, was a precedent-setting decision from Danny Sullivan in his first year as artistic director.

It was the first time a drum has graced the main stage in many years, even as the festival has explored music from around the world. The experiment worked, as the first performance culminated in a round dance with hundreds of participants, and the finale on Sunday night brought the entire crowd back their feet.

In between, the musical highlights included performances by the 14-member Lemon Bucket Orchestra from Toronto; Jonathan Byrd and the Urban Cowboys from Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Irish Mythen from PEI; and Swamperella from Toronto, among others.

The hot, sunny weather, along with a push by festival organizers (who are all volunteers) to increase the sale of single day passes to the event, helped set an attendance record on Saturday. In the past, the festival has been notoriously reluctant to promote itself for fear of overcrowding the festival site.

Overcrowding did not prove to be an issue, however, as the crew of site and parking volunteers was able to handle the crowds. Aside from some sunburns and an ambulance call for a broken leg, the festival went off without a hitch in its 43rd rendition.



The Blue Skies Music Festival has been around for 43 years, but for many people it is a phantom event. Day passes have been available at locations in Perth, Kingston and Ottawa, but they can be sold out by mid-July. A schedule of performers is never published until a few days before the festival, and although people who make the trip up to Clarendon always report that the performances are memorable and the vibe is more than friendly, many people feel that the festival is not accessible.

That is all changing, as Blue Skies finally joins the 1990s (it may even make it to the new millennium in a few years).

Not only is the schedule of performers available online at, tickets are also available at the same location. Camping passes are still hard to come by, as many of them are reserved for committed volunteers and the rest are allocated by lottery in May of each year, but Friday night, Saturday and Sunday tickets are now readily available. In addition to being available online, they can be purchased at the front gate to the festival, on Clarendon Road off Road 509, on the Saturday and Sunday morning of the festival, which takes place on July 30 and 31 this year.

The festival has a new artistic director this year, Danny Sullivan, who may be familiar to some readers because he has programmed several music series at MERA in McDonalds Corners. Sullivan, who lives with his family off the Bennett Lake Road north of Maberly, served as the artistic director at Blue Skies once before, he recalled when interviewed earlier this week, in the mid-1980s.

At that time the music director at the festival had less authority than they do now. The bands they wanted to hire were vetted by a committee.

“I left the job after one year, even though it is usually a three-year term,” Sullivan said, “because it was hard to program the way I wanted to while pleasing a group like that.”

Since taking on the job after last year's festival, Sullivan has attended different kinds of music conferences and showcases in Montreal, Toronto, and elsewhere.

“I made sure to see a live performance by every band that I booked this year. You can't tell how a band performs in front of an audience by their recordings and videos,” he said, “and I not only had the job of booking the bands, I also have to put together programs that fit together well.”

He also decided that, for his first year, he would not book any acts that have already played at Blue Skies in the past.

“One of the performers I am most looking forward to seeing, Corin Raymond, was at Blue Skies with the band, the Undesirables, several years ago but he is coming back as a solo act. He always brings something different to the stage,” Sullivan said.

Another act that he mentioned was Akawui, who will be closing the festival on the Sunday night.

“Akawui is a former mixed martial arts fighter of Chilean heritage, who has indigenous roots through his Mapuch grandmother. He performs in a Latino-urban-electro style with a hint of the Chilean star-band Inti Illimani. At the end of his show he is joined by dancers from Akwasasne in full mask. It should be a spectacle that will get people moving.”

The final act dovetails with the opening of the festival on Friday night.

“Blue Skies is one of the only festivals that owns the land where it takes place, and this is the 10th anniversary of the year when the land was purchased. In order to celebrate that, and the 40 years before that when the land was owned by Oskar Graf, as well as the Algonquin stewardship of the land for thousands of years before that, we will be holding a drumming ceremony to start the festival with members of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation.”

Danny Sullivan said he already has plans for next year's festival, but for now he is looking forward to seeing how all the pieces he has assembled will come together in 2016.

And for the first time ever, everything anyone needs to know about attending the festival can be found at their website.


On April 23, the Blue Skies Fiddle Orchestra (BSFO) Jam-a-thon took place at the Maberly Hall. This year's Jam-a-thon, which was a fundraiser for the orchestra, also celebrated Tay Valley Township's 200th anniversary of the Perth Military Settlement.

The all-afternoon acoustic jam circle featured an array of soloists, trios and groups sharing songs with a community of joyful musicians and listeners.

The day began with Gary's lively play-along tunes. The hall was abuzz with the sounds of all kinds of instruments, including the fiddle, bass, mandolin, cello, and ukulele.

Next, the beginner and intermediate groups showcased their well-rehearsed sets of reels, jigs and hornpipes.

Shortly after, the Unspoken Rests, a youth ensemble group representing the BSFO, played their signature set of tunes, featuring their own arrangements and ending with a rock n' roll, foot-stomping tune by Gordon Stobbe.

The Fiddlers Guild then performed their dynamic sets of tunes, some of which were accompanied by entertaining narratives.

To follow, the Long Sault Trio shared their music, which consisted of original and traditional tunes, and ended with a captivating, new vocal number.

The Classical Group brought a new angle of music to the Jam-a-thon and many people were raring to play along and join the fun.

The pie auction was a massive success. Eager pie-buyers helped raise over $300 on the auction alone.

At the end of the afternoon, the over 50-member Blue Skies Community Fiddle Orchestra performed their polished set-list of tunes including bluegrass, Scottish, and Cape Breton tunes.

With the help of sponsors and the community, over $3000 was raised from the Jam-a-thon. The jam was a great turnout and for sure a huge success for the BSFO.


Published in Lanark County

This Saturday, April 23, is the annual Blue Skies Community Fiddle Orchestra Jam-a-thon at the Maberly Hall from 1pm to 6pm. The Jam-a-thon supports the orchestra and will also celebrate Tay Valley Township's 200th anniversary of the Perth Military Settlement. The 50-member fiddle orchestra will play all afternoon and is inviting any local musicians to play with them. It’s not just for fiddlers; guitars, cello, viola, mandolin, penny whistles, dancers, listeners and anyone who appreciates home-made acoustic music is welcome to drop in and join the jam circle anytime during the day. The public can sponsor a musician to participate. Admission is by donation and refreshments will be available throughout the day. The pie auction starts at 4:30 and promises to be a highlight. Bring your friends and family and join the fun! For more information, contact Cindy McCall at 613-278-2448 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Published in Lanark County
Saturday, 02 January 2016 22:59

Little Christmas Concert in Mablerly on Sunday

Community Fiddle Orchestra to hold “Little Christmas Concert”

by Jeff Green

Why hold a Christmas concert in January?

Either because you celebrate Christmas on January 6 as the Orthodox churches do, or because you are the Blue Skies Community Orchestra.

At one time the orchestra held their Christmas concert on the Saturday or Sunday before Christmas, but one year, this being southern Ontario, an ice storm hit on the day of the concert. Instead of canceling completely until the following Christmas, the orchestra booked the Maberly Hall for the first Sunday in January, and through word of mouth and some frantic postering, a crowd came out to hear Christmas music two weeks after Christmas.

Not only was it a large crowd, it was an appreciative crowd, and it led the orchestra to switch the date of their Little Christmas concert on a permanent basis.

So, on January 3, 2016 at the Maberly hall, everyone is invited to extend the holiday musical season from 2 – 5 pm.

The Blue Skies Fiddle Orchestra, as well as their intermediate and beginner orchestras, will be playing. Also the “Unspoken Rests”, a group of talented young orchestra members who have taken on some of the classical repertoire, will perform. Rounding out the entertainment are the “Lanarky Fiddlers Guild”, who were formerly known as the Heritage Fiddle Orchestra.

The orchestras will perform seasonal favorites, among many others.

Admission is $5 and refreshments will be available.

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 22:10

Music festival cuts garbage to a minimum

The Blue Skies Music Festival is known for its variety of music, tie-dyed everything, and workshops about subjects such as Appalachian music, Yoga Nidra (sleeping yoga), Thai head massage, and making ice cream.

But this year, in addition to stand-out performances by Swing (fresh from the closing ceremonies at the Pan Am games), folkie Karen Savoca, East Coaster fiddler and guitarist Tim Chaisson, funksters with message Digging Roots, folk/bluegrass veteran Shari Ulrich, and the inimitable Washboard Hank, the festival was all about garbage.

Zero garbage that is. After years of efforts to encourage composting and recycling, working with the Central Frontenac Waste Management Department and Bill Everett from Bee Sanitation, the festival decided this year that it would offer only comprehensive recycling and composting collection. Campers and day visitors to the festival were called upon to minimize their waste and bring whatever could not be recycled home with them. The garbage-free policy extended beyond visitors to the festival, which prepares food for festival goers and performers, and operates a main stage and workshop areas for up to 2,000 people.

“This year I picked up two bags of garbage from Blue Skies,” said Bill Everett. “When I first started working with them they already had recycling in place, but there were 350 bags of garbage as well. They've really done well.”

Everett will be back later this week to pick up recycling, and all liquor and beer containers were collected and returned for refund to benefit the Guatemala Stove Project. There will be a lot of compost as well, but the garbage is down to the amount a family could produce in a week in pre-recycling days.

“The Township of Central Frontenac, like most municipalities, has a waste disposal problem. For as long as I've done recycling and garbage at Blue Skies the township has been worried about landfill space, looking for ways to divert waste from landfills and pricing landfill usage appropriately,” said Matt ???, who convinced the rest of the festival organizers that the zero garbage policy should be put in place.

He explained the Central Frontenac recycling rules to the festival organizers and visitors and offered some tips as well, and waited to see what would happen.

“It helps us all to become more aware of the simple things we can do to reduce our impact in our day-to-day lives,” he said.

By going from 350 bags “over the hill” to just two, the Blue Skies Festival is now part of the solution to Central Frontenac Township's waste issue.

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 21:59

Community Fiddle Orchestra in PEI

It was the trip of a lifetime for the Blue Skies Community Fiddle Orchestra when they visited Prince Edward Island from July 15 to 22.

In their 16 years together as an orchestra they have never attempted anything like this. The logistics were staggering. The 37-member orchestra is made up mostly of fiddle players, but there is a violist, a cellist, a bassist and guitarists as well, and all of their instruments needed to be transported.

Since it is an all-ages group, with members ranging in age from under 10 to over 75, the trip was a family affair. In addition to the musicians, families (parents, mates and children in some cases) came along to soak up the atmosphere.

Some traveled by plane to PEI, and others drove, making a family camping trip out of it. Since the orchestra is also based on a pay-as-you-can philosophy, the group spent 18 months fundraising to cover many of the collective costs and to subsidize some members as well. Through bake sales, concerts, grants, busking, and even a Kickstarter campaign, $30,000 was raised.

By the time the planes, vans and automobiles all landed at the Ski Lodge (the hill was never found) next to a potato field on Harmony Road not far from the eastern-most point of Prince Edward Island on a warm evening on July 15, it was a logistical miracle in itself. Surely the trip itinerary would ensure a relaxing week on sunny Prince Edward Island beaches, eating seafood, punctuated by a performance or two and workshops by some of the best musicians on the island.

And it went sort of like that - minus the sunny beach time.

First off, the weather turned windy, then more windy, and by the time the rains came, as those orchestra members who were tenting on the ocean found out, it came in a horizontal fashion, more of a storm at sea than a rain shower.

By the next morning (all the people survived but some tents were in need of repairs) the weather was sunny but the winds were still up. The orchestra met to rehearse that afternoon and then played their first concert in one of the community halls. There was something different about the performance on that night for the orchestra, however. It was partly due to the work they have done under Orchestra Director Cindy McCall over the last three years or so, adding a rhythm section to the orchestra and bringing some talented young musicians along to join with the solid corps of long time members who have remained in place. On top of that, McCall has added new repertoire, using her own arrangements that were tailored for the ensemble. The final piece of the puzzle was the effort put in by the orchestra as they prepared to bring their music to Prince Edward Island, where fiddling is a way of life.

The confidence, the timing, the tone, everything that the orchestra played that night had more musicality than ever before. They had arrived.

The next day the orchestra played at noon next to a lobster shack on the causeway between Souris and Rollo Bay. It was still windy. The members couldn't hear each other, and some of them were a bit the worse for wear after a party the night before, but the players persevered and the view of Souris harbour was spectacular.

The focus of the trip then switched to the Rollo Bay Fiddle festival, which was one of two key reasons for the orchestra deciding to come to PEI, instead of other east coast fiddle hot-beds such as Cape Breton or Newfoundland. The festival is held in a small, bowl-like valley. The wooden stage has seen the best of PEI style fiddling, both the eastern variety that revolves around the Chaisson family, and the more Acadian styles from the west, as well as a few from in-between. The most common combination on stage is a fiddler or two, a piano and a guitar, and many of the players can play at least two or all three instruments without skipping a beat – and they are fast beats.

The orchestra came on as a special guest, and they played their Ontario tunes on this occasion, not wanting to venture into some of the PEI numbers they have learned.

The rains came the next day. Literally and metaphorically. The orchestra played a fiddle service at the South Lake Church, just off from the East Point Lighthouse that separates The Atlantic Ocean from the Strait of Northumberland. They performed some tunes they learned for the occasion, including “I'll Fly Away”, and member Linda Grenier, who performs professionally with the Long Sault Trio and as a solo act, sang the Gillian Welch song “By the Mark”.

As some members were off seeing the sights and others headed over to the Rollo Bay Festival, a cold rain set in.

At the festival, Peter Chaisson, the patriarch of the fiddling Chaisson family, was working with other festival organizers to set up indoors, when he suffered a heart attack and died.

It shut the festival down and devastated the community, the orchestra included. Orchestra members met together and talked, and many went back to the festival grounds for an impromptu wake as family and friends did the only thing they could do under the circumstances, play a few of Peter Chaisson’s favourite tunes.

The next day the orchestra split into groups and took part in workshops at cottages and an artists’ retreat. The other reason the orchestra went to PEI is that one of its members, Finlay Mullaly, lives in Perth most of the year but hails from Prince Edward Island and has a family cottage on the ocean just kilometres from Souris and Rollo Bay. He hosted and helped organize the workshops. Since Peter Chaisson and his nephew JJ were supposed to be workshop leaders there were extra challenges, but the community of musicians came through and the workshops were a great success.

On the final night of the trip, the Fiddle Orchestra played a 90-minute concert at St. Margaret's Hall, near the Neufrage Harbour.

The acoustics in the small hall are superb, the orchestra was playing its fifth concert in six days, and they were primed.

It was their best performance ... ever.

Thursday, 30 July 2015 00:00

Blue Skies Music Festival

The 42nd Blue Skies Music Festival is all set for another magical weekend. The volunteer-run festival is set up on a piece of land rich with history near Clarendon, off Road 509.

Although camping passes have all been sold out, day passes for Saturday and Sunday, August 1 and 2 are still readily available. Day pass tickets sell for $35 at Tara Foods and Brian's Record Option in Kingston, Shadowfax in Perth, and Moondance Music in Peterborough. Sadly for Ottawa residents, the Folklore Centre is closed and will therefore no longer be selling tickets.

However, day passes will also be sold at the front gates all day Saturday and Sunday. The gate opens at 8am as the incredibly varied workshops begin early in the day.

Saturday the music begins at 3pm with opening act Shari Ulrich followed by the infamous Blue Skies square dance. Next, Washboard Hank & the Wringers with Sweet Muriel will hit the stage at 7pm followed by Catherine MacLellan at 8pm, Tim Chaisson at 9pm, David Celia at 10pm and Samantha Martin and the Delta Sugar finishing off the night off at 11pm.

The Sunday schedule starts in the morning again. At 10:00 the annual Blue Skies parade will kick off the day, followed by musical and holistic workshops. From unblocking your dreams to plant identification, and from ukelele orchestras to Tim Chaisson sharing the east coast music scene, there is bound to be something for everyone.

There will be a showcase featuring the Blue Skies Community Fiddle Orchestra at 3:00 followed by a square dance at begins at 4:00. The evening's music starts with the Blue Skies Community Choir led by Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell, followed by The Young Novelists at 7:45, Karen Savoka at 8:45, The Bombadils at 9:45, Jaffa Road at 10:45. Finishing off the festival will be SWING at 11:45pm.

The 42nd Blue Skies Music Festival promises non-stop entertainment, friendly faces and new experiences. Bring an instrument if you so desire, but most importantly, bring your open ears. For further information, go to

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